Considering that heart disease is the number one killer of women, you'd think we'd be talking about it a lot more. But women aren't just avoiding the conversation—they're avoiding heart screenings until it may be too late.
by Orlando Health found that 60 percent of women thought heart screenings don't need to begin until after age 30; the average age women believed they should start is 41. That's two full decades later than the age the American Heart Association recommends women start getting screened: 20 years old. Only 8 percent of women knew screenings should begin in their 20s, although very few realized it was at age 20.
"This is a wake up call that there needs to be more education on heart health and more aggressive screenings to prevent a small issue from developing into life-threatening conditions," Dr. Carolina Demori, a cardiologist who leads the Women's Cardiac Center at the Orlando Health Heart Institute, told . "Women can begin developing atherosclerosis, plaque in their arteries, in their teens and early twenties. Therefore, it is vital to understand risk factors and make appropriate life changes as early as possible."
Beginning at age 20, women should get screenings that include weight and body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, cholesterol levels, glucose levels, and waist measurement, all of which can be hidden signs of heart disease, according to . Women should talk to their doctors about an electrocardiogram (EKG) to uncover any existing heart conditions. And a knowledge of your family's history of heart disease and diabetes is also helpful for prevention—you can do genetic testing for this if you're not sure.
"Often women are too busy taking care of others that they don't take control of their own health," Demori said. "It's extremely important to work on your health so you can be present for the ones you love."
She emphasized that expanding educational efforts to children and young women is key. "Young people need to know what heart disease is and how they can prevent it, so they grow up with this knowledge and understand the preventative steps they need to take. Women cannot wait until they're 40 to start paying attention to their risk factors," Demori said.
In addition to heart screenings, Demori reminded people that a healthy diet and regular exercise is always a winning combination. Even walking is proven to help prevent heart disease.
"You don't have to participate in vigorous exercise. You can start by just walking, but it's extremely important to get into a routine of being active at least 30 minutes a day, at least 5 times a week," Demori said. "The more you do, the more benefit for your heart."
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